Monday, July 29, 2013

A Sunday breakfast with Rotarians, and a slice of heritage

Sundays are usually lazy days, at least that is how you feel in the early part of the morning. So, you don’t expect a packed attendance at a Rotary breakfast meeting. There were hardly 15 Rotarians when I arrived in time for breakfast – idli, vada, pongal, sambar, coffee – about 8.30 am. But in the half hour following, the number doubled and by the time the hosts draped a ponnadai around my shoulders it was house-full.

The members were made up of a motley group comprising advocates, professors, builders, teachers, businessmen, students and others. I was introduced by an elderly member and I noticed she had taken pains to scribble two full pages, adding copiously to an email I had sent her about my background. In the event she made several errors, but on occasions such as it is best to let them pass.

A sumptuous breakfast is unlikely to keep you awake for long when you are seated comfortably and as it turned out there were a couple of heads suddenly dropping on shoulders and then springing back to attention. But these occurrences were momentary and by and large the audience was wide awake. That was enough motivation as I launched into the romance of old – of Andrew Cogan, Francis Day and Beri Thimmappa, of Madraspattnam, Chennapattnam and George Town, of St Mary’s Church in the Fort, the oldest British building in Madras, and of some of the early institutions established by governors like Elihu Yale.

And then, about how during the height of Queen Victoria’s reign, the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture was considered the form best suited to convey imperial majesty in the Indian empire, and about the genius of Robert Chisholm, Henry Irwin, and Paul Benfield before them.

About Senate Hall, its classic restoration and sad present state, about Bharat Insurance Buildingor Kardyl Building built for WE Smith, pharmacists, a classic example of neglect, and about the fate that awaits the Royapuram Railway Station, the oldest in India after the one at Bori Bunder was long gone. Even as Mumbai’s VT and the Niligiri Mountain Railway are preserved as heritage structures.

About the Metro Rail continuing to create a stir in the city on a regular basis – with CSI Wesley Church the latest, and earlier with a building in the Teachers Training College campus in Saidapet, with P. Orr & Sons before that, and many other smaller instances.

About the need for a comprehensive Heritage Act without which buildings will continue to be razed. Like a 164-year-old church in Coimbatore was, and how part of the Rangammal Palace in Maduraiwas.

I thought I’d get into the details about Khalas Mahal (the one bright spark now) and the ChepaukPalace when I noticed the elderly lady who introduced me nodding her head gently. My time was up and the Rotarians wanted to say their goodbyes and leave. They had given me an hour (much more than the allotted or usual time given to speakers) and now they wanted to catch up on fellowship. For a Sunday morning it wasn't so bad after all, I thought.

1 comment:

R.V. Prasad said...

Unfortunate that I missed this interesting talk .... should certainly catch up on other activities around the occasion. Thanks for re-kindling the spirit of the Chennaiite in me :)